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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Is Freedom of Press a myth?

Is Freedom of Press a myth?
Media or Propoganda?


Bill Moyers' "America at Cross roads" perhaps opened up the minds of many a Americans who naively believed what they see in the paper (media) is the gospel truth. A majority of us were trained to believe that the news media puts out facts and truth, thanks to Bill Moyers for busting that myth unintentionally.

The following piece in Wall Street J0urnal re-asserts the truth, that much of our media is not genuine, they are businessess run for profits and do as they are told to do. Nothing wrong with that, but please do not pretend that it is news.

The essence of our freedom is our ability to question, question everything including our own beliefs, question what you see on the screen, what our President tells us, what is on the paper and what we are reading here on this blog.

Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and several of them are plain propogandists, nothing wrong with that either, but lead the gullible among us to believe this as the truth, give it as your version, be honest about it. All we have to do is question the intent of these men and women on every word they utter. More at: http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2007/06/journalistic-conduct.html

Mike Ghouse
www.MikeGhouse.net

An Independent Newspaper
June 6, 2007; Page A18
"Don't believe the man who tells you there are two sides to every question. There is only one side to the truth."

So wrote William Peter Hamilton, one of the first men to hold the job of editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, in the early decades of the last century. For editorial writers worth their pay, those are words to live by, and we hope to be living by them for a long time to come.

That's a point worth stressing amid the news that the Bancroft family may soon sell the Journal's parent company to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. or some other bidder. The Bancrofts have been exceptional stewards of this newspaper for more than a century. But capitalism is dynamic, and those of us who extol the virtues of Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" for others can't complain when it sweeps through our own industry. That's what is happening as the Internet breaks up long-time media business models, and Dow Jones is hardly immune. The Bancrofts have every right as owners to sell or not based on their own dictates, and what we say won't matter in any event.

* * *
Where we do have a say, however, is on the question of journalistic "independence." There's been a lot of debate lately about what that means. We thought our readers might like to know what it has meant at the Journal, and specifically for these columns, over the decades.

For starters, the Bancrofts are unique in their hands-off ownership. They are often compared as family newspaper proprietors to the Grahams at the Washington Post or the Sulzbergers at the New York Times. But members of those families run those newspapers, exerting influence over the news and opinion operations. In that sense, those newspapers are hardly "independent" of those families.

Everyone knows that the influence of Times Publisher and CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr. extends to selecting not merely the editorial page editor but columnists, political endorsements and, as far as we can tell, even news coverage priorities. We don't see how this differs from most of what Mr. Murdoch is accused of doing with his newspapers. The same lack of independence also applies to most non-family media companies such as Gannett, a newspaper owner whose make-no-waves corporate ethic turns nearly all of its editorial pages into mush.

By contrast, the Bancrofts have allowed journalists to run the news and editorial shops. That family ethic became a guiding principle under Jessie Bancroft Cox, step-granddaughter of Clarence Barron, and the business leadership of the great Barney Kilgore.

At the editorial page, this has meant that for a century we have been able to adhere to a worldview we now distill to the phrase "free people and free markets." This began, more or less, with the classical liberalism of William Hamilton, who as a Scotsman before emigrating had dabbled in British Liberal Party politics. It has continued through a series of editors who have adhered to those principles despite shifting political fashions and partisan winds.

Over the years this independence has also meant the freedom to challenge prevailing media conventions and political power. Following Hamilton as editor in the 1930s, Thomas Woodlock battled Keynesian economics and the New Deal. The Journal was skeptical of FDR's dalliances with prewar Britain -- until the day war began and our short editorial was headlined, "We Have a Duty." The editorial hangs in our office today.

As he campaigned for re-election in 1948, Harry Truman denounced the Journal as the "Republicans' Bible," a line that earned him a rebuke from Editor (of the editorial page) William Grimes because "our loyalties are to the economic and governmental principles in which we believe and not to any political party." In one of his visits to the White House, Editor Vermont Royster was thanked by John F. Kennedy for supporting his free-trade agenda. "Young man," said Royster, "the Wall Street Journal was supporting free trade before you were born." The Journal hasn't endorsed a Presidential candidate since Herbert Hoover, preferring instead to praise or assail the candidates' ideas.

On occasion this has meant the Journal has come under outside pressure, both commercial and political, but the Bancrofts and our publishers have always stood firm. In the 1950s, these columns defended Journal reporters against General Motors for disclosing the car company's tactics against independent auto dealers only weeks after we had defended GM against the government's trustbusters. GM pulled its advertising for a time, only to back down later, and the episode helped the Journal build credibility as independent of advertising interests.

Our former Editor Robert Bartley once told us of being called on the carpet by Henry Kissinger, then the Secretary of State, for opposing detente and arms control with the Soviet Union. Journal Publisher and CEO Warren Phillips accompanied Bartley to the meeting, and started things off by asking Mr. Kissinger what all of his Spengler-pessimism talk vis-a-vis the Russians was about. The anti-detente editorials kept coming, and Bartley and Mr. Kissinger later became friends.

The 1990s were especially controversial with the Journal's reporting about Whitewater and Bill Clinton's ethics, and more than one liberal thought he could mute Bartley's campaign in the wake of the Vincent Foster suicide. But the Bancrofts and Publisher Peter Kann stood up to the pressure.

Perhaps the sternest commercial test has come as we have expanded abroad, especially in Asia. The Journal has been banned or had its circulation restricted in many countries, and a reporter for another Dow Jones publication went to jail in Malaysia. In Singapore, a big market for the Journal, the government made the editorial page the first target of its campaign to curtail Western coverage of its domestic politics in the mid-1980s. While other companies -- notably Bloomberg -- have surrendered pre-emptively, the Journal has been nearly alone in fighting back. Freedom of the press has improved in Asia as democracy has expanded, and we're proud to continue fighting for freedom and human rights today in China.

We could tell other stories, but the essential point is that our owners have allowed us to speak our mind on behalf of a consistent set of principles. Readers may like, or loathe, those beliefs and our way of defending them. But we like to think this brand of independence is one reason the Journal has attracted such an influential readership. To borrow a phrase from modern business lingo, we hope it is part of our value proposition.

At a dinner honoring their century of Journal ownership in 2002, Bob Bartley expressed his gratitude to the Bancrofts for their support, noting that some of his editorials over 30 years must not have sat well with everyone in the ideologically diverse clan. But Bartley added that his proudest boast was that he ran the only editorial page "that sells newspapers." We can't say what any future owner would do, but we doubt one would be foolish enough to undermine this market appeal.

* * *
On January 2, 1951, William Grimes wrote a memorable editorial, "A Newspaper's Philosophy," that summed up our worldview this way:

"On our editorial page we make no pretense of walking down the middle of the road. Our comments and interpretations are made from a definite point of view. We believe in the individual, in his wisdom and his decency. We oppose all infringements on individual rights, whether they stem from attempts at private monopoly, labor union monopoly or from an overgrowing government. People will say we are conservative or even reactionary. We are not much interested in labels but if we were to choose one, we would say we are radical."

Even 56 years later, that still sounds good to us. Whether the Bancroft family sells or not, and no matter who is the buyer, we plan to stand for those beliefs for as long into the future as we are able.

And



From today's WSJ.
My Sweet Press Lord
June 6, 2007; Page A18


Here's my dream, and it's a not good one. The day comes when a controversialist like Rupert Murdoch bids to buy the Journal -- and no one cares. That's one of the considerations swirling in a mess that, from any party's perspectives except Mr. Murdoch's, makes the decision faced by the Bancroft family (which controls Dow Jones, our parent company) so vexing. The future of the paper is at risk if we do the deal; it's also at risk if we don't.

Our owners, in the way of other businesses, have not made themselves richer by growing their capital in the Journal. Nonetheless, in their stewardship of the paper, they've let us do what we do without interference, which is something we all cherish. Even those of us who don't find Mr. Murdoch an ogre naturally would treat as dubious any change of circumstance that might portend a change in this, our own very satisfying situation.

Mr. Murdoch's dealings in China have been a concern. This column, tongue in cheek, once assailed him for his "offenses against freedom and democracy," such as dropping the BBC from his Star TV lineup to appease Beijing. But we also let the reader in on a secret: "Mr. Murdoch's judgment about when to trim may not be perfect, but most sensible people want Star TV in China."

In any case, his trimmings in China have been far less egregious than those of Yahoo. With any owner, you take a chance -- and the risks include not just errors of commission (inappropriate interference) but errors of omission (letting the business run itself when it really needs a strong hand to alter course and correct its follies).

Much is heard about editorial independence, some of it fusty, some of it exactly to the point. What makes the New York Post such a delight is partly the entertaining suspicion (most of the time probably unwarranted) that hidden agendas and childish rivalries are behind the decision to bash this muckety-muck and spare that. Not for nothing is the Post the favorite read of New York's catty media, social and business elite, and nobody mistakes it for a paper of record. Mr. Murdoch clearly knows what he's doing, fitting a newspaper to its market opportunity. One has a reasonable suspicion that he also understands the very different market position and opportunity of the Journal. (Indeed, we'd like to think he'd end up more hostage to the Journal -- its visibility, credibility and power to embarrass -- than the paper would ever be to his business and personal interests.)

The flipside is that great newspapers aren't great because nobody is running them. In his wonderful memoir, the journalist and eminent business adviser Peter Drucker wrote: "Every first-rate editor I have ever heard of reads, edits and rewrites every word that goes into his publication. . . . Good editors are not 'permissive'; they do not let their colleagues do 'their thing'; they make sure that everybody does the 'paper's thing.' A good, let alone a great editor is an obsessive autocrat with a whim of iron, who rewrites and rewrites, cuts and slashes, until every piece is exactly the way he thinks it should have been done."

His qualities as a newshound and shrewd businessman mean, in all likelihood, that Mr. Murdoch would prove a responsible proprietor for the Journal, despite hyperventilation at the prospect by some readers and employees. He's certainly equipped by experience to make the necessary judgments to protect the paper's stature while expanding its reach (and has the resources to do so). Though strictly from the perspective of someone who works here, I'd still prefer to be owned by a company exclusively in the news business, one that lives and dies by the reputation of its newsgathering.

Here I confess to a personal bias, related to nothing more than reading the Washington Post over the years, which is that it's an exceptionally brainy newspaper.

Intelligence as a quality is hit or miss in most newspaper writing and editing. At the Post, they seem to have institutionalized it. You rarely find the collapses of critical judgment that seem to be routine at other papers when, say, a trial lawyer appears claiming evidence of racism in the auto dealership industry or at an oil company.

Absent too are the excesses of billboard journalism -- the habit of editors casually intruding a noisy paragraph that oversells and distorts the story below, leaving an unsatisfying jumble of facts that don't live up to the assertions at the top.

We don't love everything in the Post or all its reporters, and it has certainly benefited from conservative competition from the Washington Times. It also lacks the leverageable assets that Mr. Murdoch would presumably use to build the Journal's brand and distribution opportunities. But the Post's editorial page has become remarkably more sensible in recent years (although its Web site remains awful and the Style section has gone down the tubes). The company itself is principally in the news business; Warren Buffett sits on the board, guarding against investment misadventure.

A few readers have harrumphed that Mr. Murdoch reputedly would try to shorten the Journal's articles. He's not the only one. Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie has instructed his crew to write shorter too -- and the Post already strikes me as a very well-edited paper: News stories are rounded, complete but not overwritten. They also have a semblance of being written by somebody with a living mind, not just re-executing the media's general template on a given news event (for an everyday example, see the Post's recent contributions on the Chinese pet food scare).

More than that, if you read a lot of newspapers, what sneaks up on you are the outward manifestations of a quiet, non-braggy excellence that should be attractive to anyone looking to ensure the Journal's long-term future. Mr. Murdoch is the only one who has put money on the table. He's not the only one some of us wish would.

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